It’s hard to tell what’s weird and what’s normal where the Hong Kong ‘government’ is concerned these days, but the highly sensitive among us might have detected a shift since the pro-dem landslide in the District Council elections two weeks ago. The tone has perhaps, if barely, moved slightly away from contemptuousness and towards self-pity.
A recent HK Police press conference actually acknowledged the force’s disastrous public image, bitterly complaining about smears. In the days leading up to the big march there were several passive-aggressive police statements along the lines of ‘please don’t make us use tear gas’, including a vow of flexibility from the new Commissioner. You could (sort of, in theory) interpret these as a face-saving attempt to wind down the aggressive tactics. (As it was, the cops – after producing a mystery Glock allegedly intended for use against themselves – were fairly restrained yesterday.)
The government itself late on Friday issued a tantrum-packed statement – unmistakably using Beijing-style terminology – blasting local elements supporting US ‘interference’ in Hong Kong and pleading with Hong Kong people to ‘voice their discontent against violence and to take photos of rioters’ destructive acts’. The next morning (with the Liaison Office minders presumably elsewhere), it sent out a far whinier press release blathering about calm and promising to ‘humbly listen and accept criticism’.
There are other signs that, behind the scenes, things are not going well.
Independent Police Complaints Council boss Anthony Neo has apparently told Mainland media that the independent overseas experts brought in to advise his fake-watchdog don’t understand the situation in Hong Kong. Leaving aside the question of why he was talking to Shenzhen TV, this looks messy. The experts are/were the IPCC’s one hope of legitimacy, and the government’s main excuse to reject a serious independent inquiry.
A company linked to Hong Kong’s controversial justice secretary, Teresa Cheng, an architect of the now withdrawn extradition bill that has sparked anti-government protests, is being investigated by the city’s antitrust watchdog.
The announcement came just days after Ms Cheng returned to Hong Kong from London, where she had wanted to remain and resign from her government post until she was ordered home by Beijing, according to three people familiar with the situation.
The FT adds that the company, Analogue, worked on the HK-Zhuhai Bridge – but (thank heavens), the report does not mention ‘Beijing leverage over Cheng’, ‘corruption’, ‘sub-standard work’ or anything icky like that. But suspicions that Hong Kong officials are essentially being held captive are not going away.
One explanation after yesterday’s turnout for Hong Kong protesters’ resilience and determination is that they have come this far; as Ben said, we must hang together or assuredly we shall all hang separately. Another is that they smell blood.